Sorrow Transformed

December 19, 2017

While it’s not a particularly encouraging thing to say, sorrow is inevitable. It’s a part of the human condition.

People die. Disease destroys. Violence terrifies. Agony ensues. Hurt happens.

Sorrows come in many shapes and forms and depths and terms. We may have moments of reprieve when the clouds of heartache are thinner or more sparse, but sorrow will come. We may even live for long periods of time without tasting the depths of these things that so many around us face, but it will find us.

Often it seems people get this idea that a follower of Christ somehow gets a pass on the sorrow of life, but Jesus never said anything of the sort. In fact, he said quite the opposite.

In John 16, we see Jesus teaching his followers about things to come. He didn’t tell them they were exempt from sorrow, but He does give some desperately needed perspective.

[Read John 16.16-24]

There are some strange things here, but let’s keep in mind what John’s over-arching purpose in recording this gospel record really was—to show that God really came here into the mess of this life to show Himself to us. With that in mind, we look at this passage and find a powerful promise of transforming sorrows.

Jesus had been telling His followers that His departure was imminent. They were filled with trepidation at this news. It did not in any way fit their expectations of what He had come to do.

He said that soon they would be unable to see Him. But then, some time after that, they would see Him again. They didn’t understand.

Jesus’ explanation was not one of sunshine and rainbows.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16.20)

Weep and lament? Really?

And to add insult to the injury, He promises that the world would rejoice at His followers’ suffering. He makes no bones about it, “You will be sorrowful.”

But did you see that last part of that verse? He promised that, “your sorrow will turn into joy.” Strange, isn’t it? How can that be?

He explains how.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16.21-22)

Whoa… that’s what I would call a truth bomb. While at first it doesn’t make sense that sorrow could somehow turn into joy, Jesus gives the perfect, almost universally familiar, illustration.

I’ve witnessed a few babies’ births. It’s one of the many reasons I very plainly own the fact that my wife is so very much tougher than me. She’s a superstar. But there’s no denying that it involves an intensity of pain and struggle that is unique and profound.

But Jesus was, of course, spot on in saying that, once the baby is born, the pain and struggle fade almost entirely out of mind because of the overwhelming flood of joy that comes with welcoming the precious child.

Jesus seems to be teaching us that the heartaches that we will experience in this world, despite how very real and painful and intense they may be at times, will fade out beyond recollection when the joy that is to come finally arrives.

Jesus goes on to say that, while He would not longer be there in person to ask, by His Spirit within us we could and must boldly approach the Father in His name and have confidence in His answers that would be for our good and for His glory. For, when we are genuinely filled with His Spirit, we will pray for the things that bring Him joy and fill us with purpose. We will seek what draws us and others nearer to Him.

The end of all of this reality is a great and glorious promise summed up in the final words of verse 24: “that your joy may be full.”

The sorrow of separation through the inevitable vale of death will be transformed into the joy of His everlasting presence.

The sorrow of disease wreaking havoc upon these bodies will be transformed in the wonder of a body made entirely new.

The sorrow in the ripples of the violence of this age will be transformed in the eternal, unbreakable reality of a peace beyond our understanding.

The sorrow of agony from fractured relationships will be transformed into unity with one another and oneness with and in Christ.

The sorrow resonating from the constant hurt in this broken world will be transformed as the last remaining tear is wiped from our eyes.

There’s no “get out of sorrows free” card, but there is a promise of sorrow transformed.

And, like the agony of labor pains, it will be worth it.


Hold On, Help Is Coming

December 5, 2017

When people hate us and treat us unkindly or cause us pain and grief just because we profess to follow Jesus, it can be overwhelming. I think part of what makes it so difficult is that we often find the greatest challenge from religious people who are convinced that, because we don’t see things the same way as they do, we are absolutely wrong, absolutely against the kingdom of God.

At the end of John 15, we see Jesus assuring His followers that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, was surely going to come and live within them. He would bring to mind all that Jesus had taught them and guide them in every step—even when the opposition was overwhelming.(15.26-27)

But (even though there is a chapter break there, which was added by well-intentioned editors to help us find things) Jesus underscores His intention in telling them these things:

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.(16.1-4)

Jesus reminded His disciples that He was sending the Spirit so that they would not fall away and abandon the cause.(1) They would likely be ostracized from the center of religious and civic life (for indeed they were one and the same).(2a) People would even try to kill them with the firm belief that they were serving God by doing so.(2b)

Jesus goes to the root of the issue with these religiously zealous people. They did not really know the God they professed to serve. And because they did not know God the Father, they could not recognize the God the Son, Jesus.(3)

But Jesus was trying to equip them for what was ahead. He was preparing them for the hard days when those religious zealots would seem to be victorious over them.(4)

He reminded them that the Helper was coming. He was urging them not to let their fear pull them away from His call.

He told them to hold on.

Help is coming.

So you and I can take the same word, the same encouragement. Hold on. Help is coming. In fact, He is here, within the hearts of all who have believed on Jesus, bringing the very help we need.

It’s not always the way we want it. It’s not always the way we think it should be. But hold on. Help is coming.

I want to encourage you today. It you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, would you take a couple of minutes and listen to this song of encouragement?

Hold on, my friend. Help is coming.

Have you ever been hated simply because you were connected to someone important? I’ve seen it happen to teachers’ kids or the families of police officers or other public personalities.

We can only imagine what it must have been like to be one of Jesus’ inner circle of followers, a leader in HIs ministry, when Jesus left them. The same people that made it their mission to send Jesus to the cross were no less determined to silence His followers.

In John 15, we find Jesus’ teaching on this predictable behavior.

[Read John 15.18-27]

This is one of those places where Jesus used the word, “if,” but probably meant “when.” It’s almost inevitable that, if we are genuinely loving and serving people in Jesus’ name, someone is going to hate us for it. The really sad part is that this will most come from other religious people.

He assures them that the world’s hatred for them would come because of their hatred for Him.(18) He reminds them that it’s our nature to have animosity toward those who are starkly different from us.(19a) The fact that Jesus chose them to be His would just fuel that animosity.(19b)

He imparts an important principle:

Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.(20-21)

Jesus was trying to prepare His followers for the reality that there would be people who were just angry with them because they were angry with Him. Today we would simply say, “Haters gonna hate.” It’s true. The haters will hate.

He went on to explain that His coming and His teaching were bringing a great accountability to those who heard Him—they were now without any excuse because of the works they had seen Him do and the things they had heard Him teach.(22-24) They hated Jesus because His holiness brought them face to face with their unholiness. And when they hated Jesus, they were hating the Father that sent Him.

But notice verse 25:

But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.”

They hated Jesus. They had no reason to do so, but they did.

And because they hated Jesus, they would hate Jesus’ followers simply because they followed Jesus.

But Jesus brings back the promise He had introduced in chapter 14.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.(15.26-27)

The Holy Spirit, Jesus promised, would come and help them by stirring them to remember, to understand, and to proclaim Jesus and His greatness.

Yes, the haters will hate. It’s inevitable.

But He has not left us alone. By His Spirit, He lives in the heart of every believer. That means we are never alone.

The haters will hate, but you’re not alone.

Today, if you encounter people who are hostile to the faith we hold so dear, remember that it’s not you that they hate but the One whom you represent. Pray for them. Love them in Jesus’ name. And take courage for you are not alone.

Surely the haters will hate, but you’re not alone.